Deadlifting Barefoot: Should You Ditch Your Shoes?

Lifters choose to deadlift barefoot for various reasons. Some like the shorter range of motion it provides and some like the feel of their bare feet touching the floor.

Whether you deadlift barefoot or not is up to you, but it’s important to consider its advantages and disadvantages before making a decision. You should also be aware of the potential health risks associated with deadlifting barefoot.

In this article, we explain the benefits and drawbacks of deadlifting barefoot and recommend alternatives for those who’d rather deadlift in footwear.

Benefits of Deadlifting Barefoot

A lifter holding a loaded barbell with a mixed grip - Deadlifting barefoot

The deadlift involves many muscles, but primarily targets the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. Most lifters deadlift with shoes, but some deadlift barefoot because of its benefits. Some of these benefits allow lifters to better utilize the muscles involved in the deadlift. Below, are several reasons why it can be beneficial to deadlift barefoot.

Increased Stability

For some lifters, deadlifting barefoot helps them make a better connection with the ground, which can enhance stability. Having good stability means keeping your center of mass over your midfoot and not leaning too far forward or backward.

When deadlifting, being in a suboptimal starting position prevents you from performing the lift efficiently and can increase your injury risk. Lifting without shoes helps some lifters achieve an optimal starting position, allowing them to lift efficiently and safely.

Better Force Transfer

Deadlifting barefoot allows you to improve force transfer. A study by Escamilla et al. (2018) suggested that deadlifting barefoot can reduce the moment arm between the bar and the ankle joint, which potentially increases the efficiency of the lift and reduces the risk of injury.

The study also implied that deadlifting barefoot might enhance proprioception and sensory feedback, which can help improve lifting mechanics.

Shorter Range of Motion

Shoe soles create a gap between your feet and the floor, which increases the deadlift’s range of motion. This means that to complete a repetition, you’ll have to lift the weight for a longer distance than if you were barefoot. Depending on the thickness of the soles, the gap can be approximately 0.5 to 1.5 inches.

When performing the deadlift, your range of motion affects how difficult it is to complete a repetition. The longer the distance, the more effort it’ll take. This is why the amount of weight you can lift when performing a deficit deadlift (long range of motion) is less than the amount of weight you can lift when performing a rack deadlift, or rack pull (short range of motion).

Lifting barefoot eliminates the space between your feet and the floor, reducing the deadlift’s range of motion and making the lift easier to perform.

Drawbacks of Deadlifting Barefoot

A lifter deadlifting

While deadlifting barefoot has benefits, it also has drawbacks. It’s important to know these drawbacks because many of them can lead to injuries or pose health risks. Below, are the drawbacks of deadlifting barefoot.

Your Feet Aren’t Protected

If a weight drops on your foot, it can cause a fracture. The likelihood of this occurring increases when deadlifting with a sumo stance because the weight plates are closer to your feet than in a conventional stance. If your feet slide or if the barbell slips out of your hands, there’s a chance that the weight plates can land on your feet.

It’s not unusual for tiny, sharp objects to be on a gym floor. Gym members can unknowingly track tiny objects into the gym with their shoe treads. Without the protection of a shoe’s outsoles, there’s a chance that you’ll step on a sharp object and injure your feet.

Although wearing shoes won’t fully protect your feet from injury, having some protection is better than no protection.

It Can Be Unsanitary

Deadlifting barefoot can be unsanitary and cause health problems. Gyms, especially those with many members, can have tons of harmful microorganisms on their floors. When barefoot, your feet are exposed to these microorganisms.

To protect your feet from bacteria, fungi, and viruses, you can wear shoes that offer similar benefits to being barefoot, such as barefoot shoes or deadlift slippers. Later on in this article, we’ll recommend alternatives to barefoot deadlifting.

No Ankle Support

One of the drawbacks of deadlifting barefoot is that your ankles aren’t supported. Ankle support is important because it can help improve ankle stability.

Many sumo deadlifters prefer deadlifting in shoes that provide ankle support. When sumo deadlifting, your ankles are more susceptible to “rolling”, or folding inward or outward. Ankle rolling can cause the tendons and ligaments in your ankles to be stretched, which can lead to injury.

Deadlifting in shoes with adequate ankle support can help prevent ankle rolls from occurring. Shoes with ankle support envelop your ankles, providing them with cushioning, compression, and stabilization.

Alternatives to Deadlifting Barefoot

A lifter standing in front of a loaded barbell

If you’ve decided that deadlifting barefoot isn’t for you, there are other options that can provide similar benefits. These options not only protect your feet but improve your performance. Below, you’ll find several alternatives to deadlifting barefoot.

Flat Lifting Shoes

Deadlifting in flat shoes is a good alternative to deadlifting barefoot because it provides some of the same benefits. Flat lifting shoes have little to no heel height, cushioning, or arch support. They provide a stable and solid base for lifting weights, especially for exercises that require force production from the ground, such as squats and deadlifts.

Some flat lifting shoes provide ankle support, something you won’t get when lifting barefoot. Examples of flat lifting shoes are the Sabo Deadlift Shoe and NOBULL Trainer.

Deadlift Slippers

Deadlift slippers allow your feet to be very close to the ground, reducing the deadlift’s range of motion and improving your ability to produce force. They’re flexible and lightweight, and wearing them is similar to being barefoot. Usually, deadlift slippers are less expensive than flat lifting shoes, so you won’t have to break the bank to buy a pair.

Deadlift slippers aren’t the same as flat lifting shoes, which provide more support and stability. Flat lifting shoes might be better for lifters who have foot or ankle conditions, sumo deadlift, or prefer more protection.

If you’re a powerlifter, before you buy a pair of deadlift slippers, you should confirm whether or not your federation allows lifters to wear them during competitions.

Barefoot Shoes

Another alternative to deadlifting barefoot is wearing barefoot shoes. Barefoot shoes mimic the natural shape and functions of your feet, providing more flexibility, mobility, and sensory feedback than other types of shoes. Of all the alternatives we’ve mentioned, deadlifting in barefoot shoes is the closest to deadlifting barefoot.

Barefoot shoes are suitable for running, walking, and other activities that require lots of foot movement and ground contact. Some lifters wear them for deadlifting because, similar to deadlift slippers, they allow you to be very close to the floor, which is ideal for maintaining stability and producing force.

Frequently Asked Questions

A magnifying glass laying on a paper that says "Frequently asked Questions"

Why Is It Better to Deadlift in Flat Shoes?

Flat shoes require the barbell to travel a shorter distance than heeled shoes. The longer the range of motion, the more difficult the lift will be to perform. If your goal is to deadlift as much weight as possible, you should deadlift in flat shoes.

What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting Barefoot?

Deadlifting barefoot can improve your balance, allow you to make a better connection with the ground, reduce the distance you have to pull the bar, and allow you to efficiently produce force. Your feet are also in a natural and comfortable position when deadlifting barefoot.

Is It Unsafe to Deadlift Barefoot?

It can be. The main risks of deadlifting barefoot are dropping the weight on your feet and your feet coming into contact with harmful microorganisms. This is why we recommend deadlifting in flat shoes or deadlift slippers, which are similar to deadlifting barefoot.

If you deadlift at home instead of a gym with other members, coming into contact with harmful microorganisms is less of a concern but still a potential risk. When deadlifting barefoot at home, you can clean and disinfect your gym floor regularly to reduce the risk.

Should I Deadlift in Socks?

Depending on your preference, you might want to deadlift in socks. Socks provide the same benefits as deadlifting barefoot but offer more protection against harmful microorganisms. Just know that if the socks rip, they’ll leave your feet exposed. Also, deadlifting in socks increases your chances of slipping.

Can You Deadlift in Olympic Weightlifting Shoes?

You can, but it’s not ideal. The raised heels of Olympic weightlifting shoes increase the deadlift’s range of motion, requiring you to lift the weight a longer distance. They also alter your form by shifting your body weight forward. It’s best to deadlift in flat shoes.

The Bottom Line: Deadlifting Barefoot

The decision to deadlift barefoot or with footwear depends on what suits you best, as there are pros and cons to both options. Deadlifting without shoes can help you improve your balance and produce force more efficiently, but it can also expose your feet to injuries and germs. Instead of deadlifting barefoot, you can deadlift in footwear that mimics barefoot deadlifting, such as flat-soled shoes, deadlift slippers, or barefoot shoes.

Deciding whether or not to wear shoes for deadlifting is important because it will affect your performance and safety. Make sure to choose the option that’s most suitable for you based on your lifting goals.